Review: Mute | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Mute

Film Critic Matt Taylor is horrified by Netflix's latest exclusive Mute, a long-gestated passion project of director Duncan Jones

Duncan Jones is a good director. He proved that with his debut feature, Moon, and his follow up, Source Code. He knows how to write compelling, character-driven dramas that are both tense and emotional. Why, then, is his latest release (Mute, a Netflix Original project) an absolute train-wreck of a film with no redeeming features whatsoever?

A quick synopsis; we’re in a Blade Runner-esque Berlin, and our protagonist is Alexander Skarsgård’s Leo, a mute man who, when his girlfriend suddenly vanishes, begins a search into the dark and violent underbelly of this futuristic city. Its issues, then: to start with, the film is ridiculously and unbearably misogynistic. Only one female character is given any kind of backstory (I’m hugely reluctant to use the phrase ‘fleshed out’); she has perhaps 15-20 minutes of screen-time (in a 2 hour and 6 minute movie), and is frustratingly fridged by the film’s end.

The film is ridiculously and unbearably misogynistic. Only one female character is given any kind of backstory
The rest of the women in the film are either strippers or prostitutes; only a few are even named, let alone brought to life. Maybe, maybe, this wouldn’t be that bad (the likes of Blade Runner 2049, for example, have similar issues with women, though admittedly they are given much more screen-time than here) if this was the film’s only women-related issue. But it isn’t. Paul Rudd’s character is uncomfortably hateful towards one woman in particular – a shot from her point of view as Rudd’s character tortures her with the intent of killing her is just vulgar. Despite his admittedly great moustache, he’s an example of the film’s inherent misogyny; it’s disgusting and uncomfortable, but is far from the film’s only problem.

There’s no easy way of saying this next one, so I’ll just be blunt: Justin Theroux’s character is a pedophile. This woefully poor creative decision brings with it some questions. For example: why was this thought to be necessary? Does it actually bring anything to the table? Is his aspect of the story handled well? Is it presented in a way that is befitting of its appalling and harrowing subject matter? Is he scorned and rejected by his friends when they find out about his secret? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding no.

This is supposed to be compelling drama, but it’s just angering and atrocious
Duck is a paediatrician, and hides cameras in the changing rooms of his patients. He also, in a vile scene, films a young girl walking with a newly-applied prosthetic leg, but from such an angle and in such a way that it’s apparent what his intentions are. He’s thoroughly detestable – but so was Jason Dixon in Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: what made Dixon so fascinating was a combination of Sam Rockwell’s incredible, BAFTA-winning performance and the sheer humanity of the character. Here, none of this is present. Duck’s two characteristics are that he likes prostitutes and children. It’s appalling writing, made worse by the fact that towards the end of the film, there’s a serious threat that he’s going to come out of things on top. This is supposed to be compelling drama, but it’s just angering and atrocious.

The plot of the film is also garbage. In theory it’s the basis for an exciting and futuristic thriller, but Mute isn’t that. It’s boring. It’s fine for films like this to take their time with things: Blade Runner 2049 does, but that film actually has some sense of intrigue to it – this doesn’t. For much of it, the storylines of Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s characters also don’t seem connected to our main story, making scenes with them feel tedious and unnecessary. Even the supposedly exciting scenes aren’t engaging; there’s a chase sequence that should have some element of fun to it, but it’s scored so poorly that we wish it could just be over already. Not to mention the fact that the so-called plot just jumps from place to place based on clues that are barely on screen for enough time for us to register them – though that admittedly gives us less time to think about how little sense it all makes. We’ve barely understood why Leo’s come looking in a given place before he’s off chasing another lead – ironic for a film as slow as this.

In addition, the characters are all awful – none of them behave like humans, meaning we can’t invest anything in them. Theroux’s paedophilic Duck is immediately forgiven when his secret is outed; Rudd’s Cactus Bill needs to get back to America for some reason that doesn’t really click, as we have no idea how this world even works; and Leo’s being Amish has literally no relevance whatsoever, other than to give a reason for his being mute. And that’s another thing that is pretty poor; Leo’s muteness barely has an impact on the film. A mute lead has the potential to elevate a film into being something incredible (look at the gorgeous The Shape of Water, or the excellent home-invasion thriller Hush), but Mute doesn’t really do anything with it. It’s disappointing, much like the rest of it.

Verdict: A boring, insensitive, nonsensical, emotionless, downright vulgar car-crash of a film, that carries with it nothing of merit. What happened to the days when Duncan Jones made good movies?




6th March 2018 at 9:00 am

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